By Mark Pinches, Head of Coaching at Westfield Health
Taking frequent breaks at work is not only beneficial for our physical health, but also for our mental health. Although most UK employees have the opportunity to take an hour lunch break, only a third take advantage of this by stepping away from their desks regularly1. Many employees are used to rushing through to-do lists to complete tasks as quickly as possible. As well as this not being good for our physical health, it can also take a toll on our mental health and wellbeing, with it being proven that taking regular breaks reduces stress levels and increases productivity.
According to science, the ideal length of a break should be 17 minutes, followed by 52 minutes of work2. Although this is not possible in most industries, it’s still vital for employees to pause regularly throughout their working day as giving our minds a break restores stamina and helps us work to our full capacity.
A Chance to Refocus
“When we focus on something for a long period of time, our attention span peaks and slowly starts to fade, causing us to lose concentration. The average attention span for a working adult is 14 minutes,meaning if employees work for hours straight without taking a break, they are less likely to be productive3.
“This means that, as well as trying to leave the office for an hour lunch break when possible, it is also vital to incorporate short intervals into your routine. During this time it‘s important to get up and walk away from what you’re doing, preferably moving around and doing something different.
“However, some deem this length of time unrealistic and feel taking breaks will put them behind with work, so instead find themselves going a full eight hours without breaking off. In this instance, employees should take micro-breaks (anything between 30 seconds and five minutes) to give the brain a chance to focus on something else momentarily. This allows the brain to reboot and focus on a task more efficiently when it comes back to it.”
Lower Chance of Injury
“According to our research, three in ten working Brits have had an accident, made a serious mistake or felt exceptionally stressed at work due to fatigue4. Taking breaks allows the body to loosen up and stretch, increasing blood flow to the muscles that have been held in a static position for a long period of time.
“To prevent exhaustion (and with it injury), it’s important for employees to take breaks before they are needed. Don’t wait until you start to lose focus or become tired before taking action. An effective way to do this is by plotting breaks into your daily schedule, and sticking to this routine. Not only will this make sure you aren’t skipping breaks, it’ll also keep you on track and help manage time.”
“Breaking off from a task gives the brain a chance to think in a different way and often provides alternative ideas. As soon as you give your brain a rest, you often see a situation in a new way, as it gives you chance to step back and view things from a different perspective. Thinking creatively doesn’t follow logic or strategy so shouldn’t be approached in the same way as a maths equation as, the more time spent overthinking an idea, the less creative it is likely to be.
“Bearing this in mind, it’s a good idea to keep creative meetings short and concise. A maximum time of 30 minutes is recommended when brainstorming and, if this is not possible, schedule regular five minute breaks to give people chance to refocus.”
“A good work life balance is crucial for employee wellbeing and, as it becomes harder to switch off from work in an ’always on’ culture, employees run the risk of burning themselves out. If employees have their heads buried in work, they’re likely to struggle to switch off whilst at home and in most cases, employees are completely unaware that their job is slowly taking over their life.
“For most people, work is the biggest cause of stress, and though many are too engrossed in their workload to realise and take action. Taking frequent breaks is a way to monitor your own wellbeing and assess how much you are working. It’s important to take time to step away from work every hour or so as it gives you chance to relax and monitor stress levels before it deteriorates.”
“Taking group breaks is a way of helping teams bond and work together more efficiently. By allowing everyone to have a break at the same time, nobody feels guilty or pressured to power through. This is also a way of enabling teams to bond on a social level, giving people the chance to discuss things other than work and form relationships.
“It may be unrealistic for the whole office to break off at the same time so staff can be divided into groups and scheduled slots. By expressing the importance of frequent breaks from above, staff will understand their importance and will be more likely to stick to their allocated times. As well as boosting morale, this gives employees the opportunity to speak up if they are feeling overworked or stressed, allowing workloads to be assessed and changes to be made.”